Granite Point Wall

By Patrick Lovejoy ©1996
map illustration by Reiko Michisaki

Whaler’s Cove is a protected cove. The inner cove, from Coal Chute Cove south, is so protected that, due to the minimal water exchange, only a limited number of species thrive here. North of Cannery Point, the water exchange is much better. Aerated water, crashing through the rocks separating Bluefish and Whaler’s Cove feeds an abundant community in both coves. The most abundant communities are found exposed to the full force of the sea , and the only part of Whaler’s so exposed are the surge channels of Granite Point Wall.

map of Granite WallAt the northern tip of Coal Chute Cove, Granite Point Wall is a steep wall of granodiorite that runs north to the tip of Granite Point, with fracture zones and faults that parallel the prevailing seas . Over time, these faults have been carved into steep walls and narrow channels that start at the outside edge of the kelp forest and extend up into the crevasses of the exposed shoreline. From the water’s edge, these walls drop precipitously to depths of forty feet at the south end, to over eighty feet at the north end.

The first shallow inlet, north of Coal Chute Cove, is the terminus of a long wall which runs along a compass heading of 300°. Dropping to over forty feet deep, this wall is a favorite nesting place of the lingcod, Ophiodon elongatus, and the cabezon, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus. Up into the inlet, the substrate is primarily covered by encrusting coralline algae, its pinkish purple hue accenting a rock garden of surge loving kelp. If you turn around in here and there aren’t harbor seals following you, there soon will be.

It is beyond the northwest point of this wall, however, in the spectacular topography of the surge channels, that the diver will find the best diving in Whaler’s cove. Massive, parallel walls tower sixty feet over the sand channel. Topped with giant kelps whose stipe bundles exceed two feet in diameter in some cases, these reefs are the habitat of a majority of the species of plants and animals that live in Carmel Bay. Between the holdfasts of the kelp, a large percentage of the reef top is encrusted with the colonial tunicate, Didemnum carnulentum. Fissures of about an inch in width are frequently the home of the feather duster worm, Eudistyla polymorpha , whose multi-colored pom poms wave in the surge but quickly retreat into their protective tubes at the first sign of an approaching diver. Small patches of the strawberry anemone, Corynactus californica, brighten the reef with reds and pinks. I have often found the large, white, snowball nudibranch, Archidoris odhneri, crawling on the rocks at the bottom of the channel. Out on the tips of the reefs, over the sand channel that runs out of the cove, you will find the hydrocoral, Stylaster californicus, an indicator of the strong currents that sweep over this area. Hover here, twenty feet deep in clear water, look out towards the sand channel sixty feet below from beneath the kelp canopy; the most dramatic underwater view in Whaler’s Cove.

The shallow areas up in the crevasses of Granite Point Wall are a colorful mix of slate colored mussel shells, the green anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica, the ochre star, Pisaster ochraeus, the orange cup coral, Balanophylla elegans, and the bright green eel grass, Phyllospadix. This is an ideal area to look for the many increasingly rare species of the rockfish genus, Sebastes. The shallow surge channels are dangerous in all but the calmest of seas. Those glassy calm seas in the fall and before the winter storms offer an opportunity that doesn’t come often, and shouldn’t be missed.